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Thread: Omega Military Chronograph 2451 - My Holy Grail

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    Default Omega Military Chronograph 2451 - My Holy Grail

    I'm a long time member here but not posting regularly.
    Being a bit more active on TZ-UK Forum I thought I would share my latest post from there as it's military watch related and could probably interesting for some:

    Finding (or at least defining) the holy grail of watches for most of us - I guess - comes during our WIS journey.
    When we got to know a wider spectrum of watches through owning or simply dreaming about them.
    By this our interest in watches shrinks down to one or several brands, models (ideally :smug: ) .
    And possibly we pick one which is the most sought after for us. Then we have a grail and we would like to achieve to own this Grail at some point.
    In my case it was all different.

    I always loved watches but there was a point in my life when I became a WIS I think.
    I was a teenager and on a regular Family visit my Father proposed me to ask my Uncle - who was retired Chief Director of
    the National Airlines and former Colonel of the Hungarian Air Force -to show his pilot watches.
    He had several timepieces during his career, but had kept only two of them.
    He showed me two identical Omega Military Chronographs. As I got to know later on, they were ref.2451 models with 27 CHRO C12 T2 PC movements.
    Or as later renamed cal.321.

    (Why he had two of them? That's an interesting story. First you have to know that back in the days (saying that because I'm not sure if this is still
    the case today) in the Air Force of Hungary, service watches were gifted to the pilots. Usually pilots received there watches when they finished
    studies and started their career in the Air Force. Officers or commanders also received watches as gifts in special occasions or simply service watches.
    So the watches belonged to the officers and they were wearing them proudly.)

    These Omegas in subject arrived around the time of the 1956's revolution in Hungary. At the time my Uncle was in charge of two Military air bases.
    (After WWII Hungary was officially "liberated", but more of occupied by the Soviets... The country was trying to break out from the Soviet occupation in '56.
    Things were chaotic in the country to say the least.)
    To shorten the story, all those new watches arrived in a box. My Father says around two hundred (!) of them. (Don't forget that the Air Force in
    the country used to be way larger than these days.) Anyway, because of the chaos in the country some suggested to my Uncle to temporary keep the watches because
    they will be lost or stolen anyway. The country experienced basically war time. Huge Soviet forces were crossing the border.
    Also you can imagine how big value this box of Swiss chronographs had in the country which was just out of the wars and being under occupation.
    In fact my Uncle was always straight and honest and was not comfortable with the idea of keeping any watch apart from the one was dedicated to him. At the end he had been persuaded and agreed to keep one for his wife as well.
    I still don't know what actually happened with the watches and how many of them reached the Pilots after the revolution.

    Jumping back to our family visit in the 90s I was looking at those two chronographs which already had such a long history.
    And at that moment my Uncle said:
    - Choose the one you like better and take it!
    To say I was over the Moon is a huge understatement.
    However, there was a big difference between the condition of those two watches.
    The one he used every day for quite long time had a totally faded dial. It was almost impossible to read the time. The other one which was originally kept for my Aunt
    was in much better shape. Even though it's dial also started to fade from one side, but still looked way better.
    So I chose the one in better condition. My Uncle used that also for example when the other one was serviced but more often only when he was older and
    there was some issue with his first one.


    Photo from the 90's. The watch is on my Uncle's helmet also a gift from him.


    And a dial Close-up

    So that's the story how I started my WIS journey instantly with my all time Grail.
    Unfortunately my Uncle had died long time ago, but of course I always kept the watch.
    But the story of this watch is not ended here. As I said the dial of my watch showed some fading, but I didn't expect I had to witness the total transformation of the watch face in the last two and a half decades.

    I didn't wear the watch and kept it in box always, but somehow the dial faded out the same way as the other example from my Uncle.

    Why this is Happening I don't really know. Also I have no idea why it's happening with some examples and why not with others.

    I have theories, though. There could be more suppliers for the dials, or there was a faulty run on the production? Could it be that there is some kind of clear coat on the paint and
    is not conserving the paintwork? The dial is apparently made of silver. Is there something to do with the oxidation of the silver?
    Or could the radiation burn the paint off this much? This is still a radium dial and I have seen burned spots from hands on dials, if the hands were in same position for years.
    But for this kind of demolition you need real strong radiation, which I never checked on the watch.
    At least the transformation is well documented.


    Dial fading through about 25 years. There are years between these shots.


    As you can see the watch is unwearable in this condition and not even reminds me to the watch I received from my Uncle.
    I love the watch and all the history it came with. Even I love very much these classic chronographs not only from Omega, but Universal Geneve, Heuer, Breitling etc.
    They are simply great and were never really outfashionned.
    (And I believe - and can already see the signs - downsizing is the future in watch-world.
    Also this watch with its 35-36mm diameter was a perfectly good men's size back in the days.)

    All in all I needed a solution to get this watch wearable. For long time I was considering to simply send it out to Bienne for a full restoration.
    I believe I would get back a brand new looking timepiece with refinished dial. But that's not what I want!
    The other solution is to source another dial for the watch.
    So the hunt started...
    ...and continued. For more than a decade!

    Even these watches are quite rare, but to find a dial only was almost impossible.
    I say almost, because I have seen once a photo showing several NOS(!) dials on Spanish watch forum. I think the guy was from Argentina who had them.

    In fact these watches were used by (or maybe even made for) the Argentine Air Force. They are known for this but those examples have the logo of
    "Fuerza Aérea Argentina" stamped on the back. The Hungarian examples have no Military engravings. That is based on the 5-6 examples I have seen all together during the years.
    But that's no surprise if you think they were gifted to the pilots so needed no mil. stock numbers.
    (This was not the case before. During WWII and before Air Force service watches did have engravings, but that's another thread maybe.)

    Anyway I tryed to get in contact with the guy but no success. Chances to get a dial were low. I Saw complete watches (not many times), but went for above my budget. And sometimes wouldn't
    even bother for the dial they had.

    Time passed but I always kept an eye opened if something surfaces. And the reason I started this thread now is because a good example appeared on an auction site.
    It turned out that the seller is from Hungary, even though it was advertised in another country.
    Things started to be exciting! We had several message exchanges. The listing had several errors, was not available world wide and no Paypal security for the buyer.
    So, I was hoping for a good price. Even though it had a minimum price and was not exactly cheap.
    Bidding was low on it until the last second - as usually - and guess what happened. Even though the listing was not really good someone had beaten my final bid.
    Damn! These old Omegas must be desirable if a doggy listing with drawbacks still bring enough attention.
    So the watch was gone, but I still had a message from the seller that he was feeling sorry for me and ensured me if the buyer would pull he contacts me.

    Then days or a week passed. I realized how important this watch was for me. And how stupid I was not offering a little more for it! We all know the feeling I guess.
    When you see an important piece but let it got away.
    This was even worse. My whole hobby was questioned.
    OK, it was not cheap, but what I want if I'm not willing to pay extra for my grail? I was playing poker and lost.

    I was in bad mood especially because I was back in Hungary having a vacation and I know that the watch was still there being organized to take it to the buyer.
    I couldn't stay this situation and called the seller! Turned out that the buyer didn't really know what he was bidding on, or was simply expecting lower ending price...
    It turned out they are organizing a face to face transaction, but the buyer was not fully confident and apparently would be happy to walk away from the purchase.
    And guess what. Yes, I went to see the watch and made an offer.
    The next day the watch was mine!


    Looking good on the wrist

    I knew I had to get this watch, because its dial is in way better shape and I know where exactly is coming from.
    (from a heirloom from close to an old military air base in Hungary)
    And on top the serial number is very close to my watch. In fact there is only .....269 between them. On a ten million range number! (Omega production 1944)
    That means this watch is one from that box of Omegas which was once in the hand of my Uncle sixty years ago.
    Amazing!

    So, what's gonna happen now? I could keep them as they are. Keep the gift from my Uncle in the box and wear it's sister. That is the purists way maybe. Which is close to me.
    However, the purchased watch has replaced crown, Crystal, not original Omega. Unfortunately the case has been overpolished. The hands relumed with green lume. :ambivalence:
    My old one is all original. Has never been polished. Original signed crystal, crown. (Usually crown is changed due to wear - hand winding.)
    Movement is in better condition, again didn't run that much. Only the chrono second hand has been changed to a newer one.
    But that is original on the other watch.

    The two watches side by side:




    Now you see where I'm going . Using only the dial and the chrono second hand from the second watch will give me my perfect example.
    From sentimental side, this way I can wear the watch which I received from my Uncle long time ago.
    From WIS side, I will have an unpolished perfect example, with all Omega parts. Even lume will match between dial and hands.
    Maybe not the most purist way. But perfect for me. I only need a good watchmaker with steady hands. :smug:
    And probably will get the second watch's dial refinished at some point. Could be a good pair...

    Thanks for reading,
    Csaba

  2. #2
    Moderator Syrte's Avatar
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    Really nice story, thanks for sharing it. Great you could turn around your Ebay miss

    I'm not sure I mind the faded dial, but it would be good to know what caused it (if only to protect the second one).

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    I really like the faded dial example, I'd wear that over the other one any day, and it will look even better when all the black has faded off. I think you ought to really think hard as to whether you have it refinished, it just won't be the same watch and you could lose that feeling of connection with it's past. That's my viewpoint anyway

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    Member Reintitan's Avatar
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    Default "Originality over condition"

    In this case, due to the provenance and personal history of your Uncle's watch I would keep it as original as possible. Faded dial and all; actually that faded dial doesn't look bad either. Still readable and has so much character. Keep the less faded dial on the other watch as a spare. Best of both worlds IMHO.

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    Hi Csaba,

    Amazing story, thanks a lot for sharing! Since I'm originally from Hungary myself (although I live in the UK) perhaps I appreciate the background story a tad bit even more than others might.

    I had no idea that the Hungarian air force had such nice chronographs once, in fact that must have been the last time. As it was then followed by the Soviet occupation until 1990, since then - as far as I’m aware - they’ve been using Fortis chronographs, which def is a step (or two) back from these lovely Omega’s I’d say. Not that I have anything against Fortis’, I own a Flieger chrono myself, but let’s not go into this, not sure if it makes sense to compare anyway.

    It’s a pity about the dial, I wander what might be causing the early (well, relatively) ageing, since it’s been tucked away from moisture, uv and all other nasty factors…

    I’d say you got lucky with the original dial from Hungary, in my experience majority of people there still put the looks first over originality, resulting in mountains of redialed, polished and frankened vintage watches.

    I agree, if I were you, I’d also migrate the good dial and the second hand into your uncle’s watch, bringing it back to its glory. But as for the “naked” dial… I know where you’re going with the ‘purist dilemma’… I actually quite like the look of it, especially few years later when all the paint will have flaked it’ll be looking fab! I’d keep it as is in the other polished watch, so you always have the chance to convert your uncle’s watch back to ‘purist standards’, but enjoy wearing a nice looking one at the same time..?

    Damn, now this watch has to go on my (already too long) shortlist!

    Thanks again for sharing, this has made my day!
    Levente

    PS: loving the first pic!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Syrte View Post
    ....I'm not sure I mind the faded dial, but it would be good to know what caused it (if only to protect the second one).
    Thanks, exactly my thoughts. I'm going to discuss this with a trusted watchmaker before any action takes place.
    However I would be thankful if enyone would have a good guess from here what cozld possibly cause this transformation.

    Quote Originally Posted by GilesFrampton View Post
    I really like the faded dial example, I'd wear that over the other one any day, and it will look even better when all the black has faded off. I think you ought to really think hard as to whether you have it refinished, it just won't be the same watch and you could lose that feeling of connection with it's past. That's my viewpoint anyway
    Quote Originally Posted by Reintitan View Post
    In this case, due to the provenance and personal history of your Uncle's watch I would keep it as original as possible. Faded dial and all; actually that faded dial doesn't look bad either. Still readable and has so much character. Keep the less faded dial on the other watch as a spare. Best of both worlds IMHO.
    Since I have these images online, more and more people reacts the way you guys did. In fact in refinishing the original dial I was never sure, that's why I was after a second one. But the sympathy towards the faded dial is surprising and make me think. Many thanks

    Quote Originally Posted by levkov View Post
    Hi Csaba,

    Amazing story, thanks a lot for sharing! Since I'm originally from Hungary myself (although I live in the UK) perhaps I appreciate the background story a tad bit even more than others might.

    I had no idea that the Hungarian air force had such nice chronographs once, in fact that must have been the last time. As it was then followed by the Soviet occupation until 1990, since then - as far as I’m aware - they’ve been using Fortis chronographs, which def is a step (or two) back from these lovely Omega’s I’d say. Not that I have anything against Fortis’, I own a Flieger chrono myself, but let’s not go into this, not sure if it makes sense to compare anyway.

    It’s a pity about the dial, I wander what might be causing the early (well, relatively) ageing, since it’s been tucked away from moisture, uv and all other nasty factors…

    I’d say you got lucky with the original dial from Hungary, in my experience majority of people there still put the looks first over originality, resulting in mountains of redialed, polished and frankened vintage watches.

    I agree, if I were you, I’d also migrate the good dial and the second hand into your uncle’s watch, bringing it back to its glory. But as for the “naked” dial… I know where you’re going with the ‘purist dilemma’… I actually quite like the look of it, especially few years later when all the paint will have flaked it’ll be looking fab! I’d keep it as is in the other polished watch, so you always have the chance to convert your uncle’s watch back to ‘purist standards’, but enjoy wearing a nice looking one at the same time..?

    Damn, now this watch has to go on my (already too long) shortlist!

    Thanks again for sharing, this has made my day!
    Levente

    PS: loving the first pic!
    Thanks for the message. Cool, so you are more involved in these watches. In fact there were several great chronographs used by the air force from well known brands.
    I already saw Angelus, Grana, Omega, Breitling, Certina, Heuer, Seiko etc.
    Fortis came only lately. I think there is nothing wrong with their watches. I quite like them in fact.
    Funily enough I have a watch branded with your name: LEVENTE
    I need to picture that!
    Csaba

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